In trying to divine “God’s hand” in occurrences in our day to day life, we leave ourselves open to attack and manipulation of the evil one. I like to remember this quote from St. Theophan the Recluse:
“He who goes according to the will of the evil one does not experience attacks, but is simply turned more and more toward evil. As soon as one begins to come to himself and intends to begin a new life according to God’s will, immediately the entire satanic realm enters into action: they hasten to scatter good thoughts and the intentions of the repentant one in any way they can.”
We recently lost from our parish a beloved member who apostasized to evangelical protestantism. He had been going through some hard times in his life, and was convinced that God was letting bad things happen to him for a reason. When I last saw him he told me how much “peace” he felt in his new set of beliefs. But St. Theophan reminds us that this “peace” may not be from God, but from the demons withdrawing now that they have knocked him off the righteous path! “[E]ven Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” 2 Corinthians 11:14. Remember the warning from 1st Peter 5:8 that we must “[b]e sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour.”
The tribulations and hardships he endured may not have been “a sign from God” but rather the increased work of the devil to try to tear him from the Church. Reading events in our lives as God’s work or God’s warnings are not matters to be taken lightly. Think of the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent. Even as the monks near perfection, the demons remain. (Many holy monks of Mt. Athos recorded unceasing night time attacks from the demons.) How easily the faithful fall from the lower rungs. The demons practice to deceive. From the time of the fall, deception and the devil have been synonymous. The demons do not care that you think their attacks are warnings from God. They do not care that you believe your new found peace is a reward from God. All they care about is that they have moved you from where you were to another place. See 2 Corinthians 11:3.
So how then do we avoid being led astray? First, and foremost, submit yourself to prayer that God’s will be done. This does not mean done now, done in a certain way, done on your terms, or anything like that. Just ask that God’s will be done. Second, fight the passion of pride and egoism that whispers to you that you must understand why things are happening in a certain way. This desire to know the reasons is an open invitation for the demons to put into your mind any number of suggestions (logismoi) to move you off of the righteous path and lead you astray. Recall in Genesis 3, Eve is led astray by the false thought that the serpent implanted in her mind, as to why the fruit was forbidden. “God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” And Eve succumbs to this temptation because she was “desirable for gaining wisdom.” This opening of oneself to the logismoi — the tempting and distracting thoughts — is the first step in the ultimate assault, consent and captivity to the logismoi. Simply opening the mind to the entertainment of these thoughts ultimately leads most to defeat. It is urged that best way to combat logismoi is to be indifferent and dispassionate. This is sound advice, as disinterest in the logismoi makes later entertainment of them less likely. Finally, when sorrowed by your circumstances or assaulted by the logismoi, seek the counsel of your priest or spiritual father to aid you in your holy struggle. Again, it is pride that tells us to deal with this alone. It is the most fervent hope of the demons that you be isolated and unable to pull yourself out of temptation. Eve was alone when tempted. Do not be caught alone!
Be patient. How long did God suffer the unfaithfulness of his people? You can endure these temporary worldly setbacks and tragedies. Christ has overcome the world for you. You need not hasten to understand why things happen the way they happen. Trust in the Lord and receive the reward which has been promised.